Chuck Cantrell, a Black man wearing thick rimmed glasses and a floral button down shirt, talking to Matt Mahan, a Caucasian man with short hair and a goatee, while surrounded by a group of people
Gardner Neighborhood Association and community members asked Mayor Matt Mahan about the community center's funding after the town hall event on May 20, 2024. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

While San Jose works to divvy up a hefty donation from Google, residents want to make sure that money goes back to supporting their communities.

Part of Google’s $200 million donation to San Jose was $1 million to support the Gardner Community Center, with the goal of reopening the center with more programs for residents. After going back and forth for about four months, however, the city and residents still disagree over how that money should be spent.

The city has budgeted about $364,000 of that $1 million from Google toward hiring three full-time and two part-time employees for the community center for the next year. The city is also spending about $74,000 in one-time costs for equipment at the community center, including computers.

A proposed budget sent from the city to members of the Gardner Neighborhood Association planned to have the new community center programs open for two years and allocate about $454,000 per year toward staffing. This will eat up about $908,000 of the $1 million over the two years.

Chuck Cantrell, a San Jose planning commissioner and president of the Gardner Neighborhood Association, said the association had previously met with city Parks Director Jon Cicirelli about keeping the center open for more than two years. But talks went nowhere, and it’s unclear what might happen to the community center after those two years are up.

“We want to see the funds from Google’s very generous donation benefit the community now. It’s an abstraction to say that if you let us hire all these people, then it’ll benefit the community,” Cantrell told San José Spotlight. “Well, how? And why at that level?”

Matt Mahan, a Caucasian man with short hair and a goatee, talking with Chuck Cantrell, a Black man with thick rimmed glasses wearing a floral button down t-shirt and, surrounded by a group of people
Gardner Neighborhood Association and community members asked Mayor Matt Mahan about removing the community center’s funding from next year’s budget to review its uses. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

Parks spokesperson Ed Bautista said the department conducted community outreach in multiple forms, including sending mailers to about 1,400 addresses in the neighborhood and hosting in-person community meetings, to develop the budgeting plans.

He said some of the neighborhood association’s leadership disagree with the proposal. He added that having the center open for two years will help build the case for the city to continue funding it.

“We received substantial information on exactly the programs that they want to see at a fully run community center and we believe that plan meets the needs and the wants of the community’s feedback,” Bautista told San José Spotlight.

Cantrell said he wanted less money going toward staffing and more toward scholarships. Without scholarships, residents have to pay program fees for the senior lunch program and an after-school program for children attending Gardner Elementary School. Cantrell said the after-school program costs about $2,000 per child annually.

Mahan’s office held a community meeting Monday about the city’s budget, in coordination with District 6 Councilmember Dev Davis and the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association. More than a dozen Gardner residents and their supporters came to ask about the community center.

After the event, residents corralled the mayor about removing the Gardner Community Center funding from this year’s budget. The community wanted more time to work out the details with the city. To save money, Gardner Neighborhood Association members suggested residents in the area may be interested in helping run the community center.

“This community has already been neglected for many years. Not just for one or two, but for over 10 years,” Claudia Gonzalez, secretary of the Gardner Neighborhood Association, said.  “To add insult to injury, we are a community that’s mostly brown. And now you’re cutting our funding.”

Mahan told the group he’s not familiar with the Gardner Community Center issue, but he’d try to learn more about it. He also recommended the group circulate a neighborhood petition to gauge community agreement on pulling the money out of the budget and making a presentation to City Hall.

“Our team is working with the city’s parks department to understand what our options are prior to the budget vote in June,” Tasha Dean, spokesperson for the mayor, told San José Spotlight.

Fred Buzo, a policy director from Davis’ office, said the budget is only a proposal, so there’s still time to modify it. Buzo said their office is hoping to continue conversations with the Gardner Neighborhood Association and community on how best to use the funding.

Cantrell said needing a petition delegitimizes the neighborhood association, which is the organizing body for the Gardner community. He added that the Gardner Neighborhood Association is mostly made up of people of color, while other neighborhood associations that are predominately white, like the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, would not be treated this way.

“At a town hall for District 6, when Gardner is a District 6 community, we were not allowed to simply have a question asked and answered,” he told San José Spotlight. “This is part of the treatment we get across the board. This is why it’s so difficult for us to survive here.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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